KUALA LUMPUR: Consuming foods containing excessive amounts of salt, sugar, fat and carbohydrate can make children either too active or too lethargic, according to a nutrition expert.
Universiti Teknologi Mara senior lecturer Dr Norazmir Md Nor said children tend to enjoy eating processed foodstuffs that were usually loaded with preservatives, sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
“Unfortunately, eating such foods all the time can have repercussions on their behaviour and mental development,” warned Norazmir, who is attached to the university’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at its Puncak Alam campus in Selangor.
Any kind of food a child eats has either a positive or negative impact on his body and can influence his state of health, and even behaviour and thinking skills, he told Bernama.
Citing fresh milk, honey and raisins as good examples of nutritious foods for children, he said milk was good for the teeth as it was rich in calcium and minerals, while honey was believed to be an effective energy booster, as well as a remedy for relieving coughs and asthma. And, the natural sugar in raisins help maintain children’s energy levels and stimulate their minds as well.
According to Norazmir, consuming too much of processed and preserved foodstuffs that were laced with additional flavourings and artificial colourings can, over the long term, have undesirable effects on the health of children.
“Such foods lack the nutrients and vitamins essential for healthy physical development,” he said, adding that the government and other organisations should carry out programmes to raise public awareness on the importance of eating nutritious and balanced meals.
He also said that parents should expose their children to healthy eating habits from a young age, as well as make an effort to serve their families meals that comply with the Malaysian food pyramid guidelines. “A balanced meal comprises foods that are packed with enough nutrients, vitamins and minerals to meet the needs of our body,” he said.
Advising parents and guardians to be more creative when preparing meals for their children, Norazmir said they were more likely to eat their vegetables and fruits if they were served to them in ways that would catch their attention.
“Kids are bound to be attracted to fruits and vegetables if they are cut into the shapes of their favourite cartoon characters or animals, or in other designs they love… it will certainly whet their appetite.
“And, in case your child doesn’t like to eat fresh fruits, then give them fruit juices instead, which are just as good,” he explained.
Norazmir said parents could also talk their children into eating their vegetables. “Just tell them their eyes can become as beautiful as a rabbit’s if they eat carrots or they can become as strong as Popeye if they eat spinach! Or get them motivated by repeating to them the popular saying, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’,” he said.
To prevent children from becoming overweight or obese, parents could make use of smartphone applications to count the amount of calories in their meals and also their nutritive value, he added.
“They can also use the fitness apps in their phones to count the number of calories burnt during physical activities. It’s important for us to take all these measures to protect our younger generation against the serious diseases that can afflict them if they don’t control their food intake,” he said.
Lecturer and mother-of-two Norlaili Lott, 37, said she usually fed her children – aged three and six months – home-cooked and processed meals.
“I prepare their food in big portions and then pack it into smaller containers and store them in the refrigerator. This food is so much safer and cleaner than food bought from outside,” she said.
She said although it was not an easy task preparing the meals, it gave her ample satisfaction to know that her children were only getting the best food, in terms of nutrition.
“There’s indeed a big difference when we cook or process our own food… for example, when I prepare burger patties I only use the ingredients that I like. And, I must say that my patties are delicious and very different from the ones that we buy from supermarkets.
“What I like best about this (preparing meals at home) is that I’ve control over how much salt and sugar goes into the food. What’s more, cleanliness is also assured,” she said.
She said to ensure that their children received all the nutrients that they need, parents should take control of their diets and only provide them with food that was healthy and of good quality.